Gripe Water - Does it really work? Plus alternatives for Baby Gas & Colic!
I get asked this very common question on a regular basis, "Should I give my baby gripe water?"
The answer depends on your specific situation.
Skip to what you need:
What is gripe water, is it safe?
My lactation protocol recipe for colic
Precautions for Gripe Water Use
What to know if you use gripe water
What is gripe water and is it safe?
I usually say, whatever works for your family and is not harmful to your baby is best. If it's working for you and not causing more problems then by all means continue with use. However, if you've tried it with no improvement you may want to keep reading.
Gripe water is an over-the-counter herbal supplement available in liquid form and sold everywhere from drugstores to health food stores. Many brands market it to new parents as a remedy to ease infant gas and colic, among other baby ailments like teething and hiccups. Originally developed to treat fevers caused by malaria in the 1800s, gripe water’s usage has evolved over time. In fact, it was actually nannies and mothers in England in the 1850s who started using the original version—which, notably, included alcohol—as a remedy for babies with colic.
I don't typically recommend gripe water as the go to for my clients with tummy issues or general gas, because there is little to no scientific evidence that proves it helps with gas, constipation, fussiness or tummy issues.
However, I have many parents that use it on their own without recommendation and believe it works for their baby. Pediatricians will usually not recommend it, but if you ask about it they will often say it won't hurt if you try it.
In my professional experience, pediatricians have agreed more with my recommendation of 1 millimeter of chamomile and/or ginger tea every hour as needed. This is because we know what it is, chamomile + water and that's it. In one clinical study, herbal tea containing chamomile proved useful in treating colic.
Gripe water is usually a blend of herbs, think of it as a stronger herbal tea. Some gripe water also has additives like alcohol, and brands sold in the U.S. today, typically contain various forms of dill and bicarbonate. These days, you just don’t know what is in it gripe water. According to John Vann, M.D., a pediatrician at Omaha Children’s Clinic in Omaha, Nebraska, says “These products aren’t regulated by the FDA, so I never recommend them.”
For comparison, here are the ingredient lists for a few popular gripe water brands:
Little Remedies Gripe Water: Zingiber officinale (ginger) root extract, foeniculum vulgare (fennel) seed extract, purified water, agave vegetable glycerin, glycerin, natural ginger flavor, potassium sorbate, citric acid and xanthan gum.
Wellements Organic Nighttime Gripe Water: Water, organic ginger root extract, organic fennel seed extract, organic chamomile flower extract, organic lemon balm leaf extract, organic passionflower flower extract, organic agave syrup, organic lemon juice concentrate, organic glycerin, organic lemon juice powder and sodium bicarbonate.
Mommy’s Bliss Gripe Water: Deionized water, vegetable glycerin, sodium bicarbonate, citrus bioflavonoid extract, citric acid, potassium sorbate, organic zingiber officinale (ginger root) extract, organic foeniculum vulgare (fennel seed) extract and natural fennel flavor.
OK but I still have a fussy baby! Is it gas or colic?
I think many parents turn to gripe water as a "quick fix" anytime their baby is fussy or experiencing excessive crying. A few things we have to remember, All babies are gassy and all babies cry, this is normal. The same way we adults have gas sometimes on a daily basis whether it's farting or burping, we all do it! We also have emotions and needs, when those aren't met or not met in a timely manner we become irritated and agitated too, complaining ourselves! It's not permanent, it passes when our mood is lifted and we are OK. However, sometimes this doesn't resolve, such as if we had depressive feelings for longer than 3 weeks, or if we were crying and all needs were met, babies are the same way, then that would indicate something is wrong and we need to get help and investigate their feelings and emotions more thoroughly.
Baby's "fuss" for various reasons. Mostly, crying is a verbal communication method to let you know they have a need for something, whether that is a diaper change, food, discomfort, sleepy, overstimulated, bored, or just want comfort. If all of these needs are met, yet your baby is STILL fussy you should first try some calming techniques. If none of these methods work, then you need to ask yourself some questions:
Does my baby cry more than a total of 3 hours a day, at least 3 days a week for 3 weeks or longer?
Does it worsen closer to the evening times?
How old is the baby?
If you answered yes to any of the following questions and your baby is under 12 weeks old and more likely around 5 weeks, then you might be dealing with Colic.
Gas and Colic are not the same thing. If a baby is struggling with excessive gas, but colic symptoms are not present, I recommend trying gas relieving techniques such as infant abdominal massage and exercises. Additionally, you can try infant probiotics to regulate the gut flora. Infant probiotics are safe, but just like gripe water, there is limited research to prove with 100% certainty that it will work for your baby. Read more on gas, colic and how to burp a baby here.
If your baby has colic, it takes sometimes a combination of remedies to find the sweet spot to soothing your baby. This is the only instance in which I recommend gripe water to my clients, and not just that but a few other things.
My Go to Lactation Consultant Protocol Recipe for Colic:
- Contact your pediatrician and let them know you are experiencing this. Be honest about how it is affecting your sleep, family dynamics and your baby's mood.
- The 5's (side lying, sucking - with a pacifier, shhh-ing - white noise sound machine, swaddle, swinging) to learn more read my blog here.
- Renting or buying the Snoo (I do not recommend the Snoo in the first 2 weeks) I have seen a lot of success with families of babies with colic but not for non-colic babies.
- Gripe water + 1 mL of chamomile and/or ginger tea every hour as needed, AND infant probiotics
- Babywearing during the day can help with multitasking and keeping baby calm and reduce any reflux symptoms if worn after eating
- Mental health support for parents, this can brutal on your stress levels
- A postpartum doula, nanny or other helper who will give you even just an hour of relief during the most fussy times
- If using human milk, considering cutting dairy items for a week to a month; there is limited research that show that dairy sensitivities in babies has sometimes been associated with colic. You baby is not allergic to your milk, it would be a milk protein sensitivity from dairy or cow's milk.
- If using formula, considering donor milk or a hypoallergenic formula
I think my baby is constipated!
If your baby is suffering from constipation, I also recommend all of the remedies mentioned above plus some infant chiropractic or bodywork. This is not harmful or dangerous, there is no "cracking" involved. It is simply gentle pressure on certain points that may help relax or release tension in the body and balance the nervous system to allow their digestive tract to be more relaxed as well and pass the poop more easily and frequently. More on baby poop here. Also, google Dr. Poo for even more info.
Prune, apple and other juices:
I understand that in some cultures, mine included, that prune juice and other foods and liquids are the go to for tummy issues for new babies.
However, I do not recommend any prune, apple or any other juice product before 6 months. These complementary foods even in liquid form, can be harder for the body to process while the gut lining is still maturing and susceptible to pathogens and bacteria. If your doctor prescribes it that is fine, but I would not try it without consulting with your pediatrician first.